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FCC Extends Schools' Entry Deadline, Leveling Playing Field for Technology

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Washington

Schools and libraries will not have to bolt from the starting gate to get their share of the "E-rate" discounts on telecommunications services scheduled to begin Jan. 1.

The Federal Communications Commission announced last week that the Schools and Libraries Corp., which will administer the $2.25 billion annual fund, will give equal consideration to all applications that reach its office within 75 days of the date it begins to accept them.

That starting date has not yet been announced, nor has the application form been made final.

The FCC had previously signaled that eligible schools would be awarded the discounts on a first-come, first-served basis. Under the new announcement, the fund's final $250 million will still be saved for high-need schools.

The discounts are intended to help schools make greater use of telecommunications technology, such as Internet connections. The FCC ordered the cost breaks to help carry out the "universal service" provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. ("FCC Approves Discount Plan for Schools," May 14, 1997.)

Averting Panic

The "long first day" now planned for filing applications will avert panic and give schools that are less technologically adept a better chance of getting discounts early, said Lynne E. Bradley, the deputy executive director of the American Library Association's Washington office.

Ms. Bradley, whose group is part of the Education and Libraries Networks Coalition that supported the 75-day period, said she is confident there will be discounts enough for all.

E-rate--or "education rate"--discounts will range from 20 percent to 90 percent of the services.

The EdLiNC Coalition recently launched a hot line and a World Wide Web site to inform schools and libraries about the discounts. Call (800) 733-6860, or visit the Web site at www.eratehotline.org.

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